A Jewish Matchmaker’s perspective on too many choices…

There’s a phenomenon in Behavioral Economics called choice overload or “overchoice”. In a nutshell, it refers to having so many options that a person is unable to decide between them. In 1995, Professor Sheena Iyengar and her research team at Columbia University designed a test – they worked with a brand of gourmet jam and designed an in-store display that offered either a selection of six different flavors of jam or a selection of twenty-four. The results were insightful; although more shoppers stopped to taste and browse the jams when the selection was larger, LESS bottles of jam were actually sold – a 27% difference; only 3% of the shoppers purchased a jam when the selection was from twenty-four, and 30% purchased when the selection was from six. So what gives? Isn’t it good to have a lot of choices? And what in the world does this have to do with matchmaking?

I’m no economist, but in my decade+ of working with Jewish singles from all over the world, and enjoying a birds-eye view of the online dating scene, I’ve wondered if part of the reason for all these singles who seem to be searching for a lifelong partner yet remain alone isn’t somehow connected to this concept of overchoice. Is it possible that there are so many singles online and so many options of whom to contact and whom to date that it has rendered many of us incapable of deciding on one person to date, let alone with whom to pursue a relationship? And is there anything we can do to move past this paralyzing phenomenon and finally “settle down” with a keeper? I think so.

There have been numerous studies since the jam study confirming that at some point, an overwhelm of options inhibits a person’s ability to choose, and they simply make no choice at all. But this conclusion is accompanied by feedback on ways to eliminate brain overload and narrow the options down enough to make a decision. Ready to break free of dating indecision? Apply the same preconditions found to be helpful in eliminating economic indecision to your search for a compatible partner.

Get Clear on your Preferences: If you don’t have a clear idea in your head (and heart) of the characteristics of the person you want as a partner, you’ll have a harder time narrowing your focus to one person. What I mean is, you need to get into the dating game with a concrete list of qualities that a person must possess in order for you to agree to go on a date, and eventually commit to a long-term relationship. This, in itself, will considerably narrow the options down to a more reasonable number. Of course, you don’t want to impose too many restrictions, or you may find there are no singles who meet your requirements, but you need to have a clear idea of what you do and don’t want in a partner. This will help you eliminate singles who aren’t actually a “fit” and focus only those who have the potential to be, thereby reducing the pool of “options”.

Stop Looking for the “Next” Best Thing: Another factor that paralyzes singles is the idea that there is still somebody out there who is “better” or is a better match than the person in front of you. Yes, there probably is, but who knows where they are or if you’ll ever meet them? If you’ve found someone who meets the most important of your preferences and with whom you can build a loving, happy life, start building! Our technological advances produce a constant flow of updated versions of a product that is more advanced and has more features than the version before, and we seem to be projecting this “trading up” mentality to our love lives. Find one person to focus your time and energy and emotion on based on some defined characteristics and focus on building a relationship with that person. In other words, choose a jam and be confident and satisfied in your decision.

Like any major decision, you need to begin with a clear grasp of your own needs. If you’re shopping for a computer, you first clarify how much RAM you need, which processor to choose, if you prefer dedicated or integrated graphics. Before buying a car, you decide the gas mileage you want, how large the vehicle needs to be, and the size engine you prefer. The same tactic is beneficial in dating. You need to get clear about the role that you want your partner to fill and decide upon some non-negotiables. Do you want a parenting partner? An activities/travel partner? A breadwinner? Do you insist on a non-smoking spouse? An avid sports fan? An intellectual bookworm? An extrovert? Choose 3-5 “must haves” in a partner and begin your search. Eliminate anyone who doesn’t possess those core qualities, and only date those who do. That’s your starting point. What happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t a real “fit”? Surprise, surprise, love is tricky that way. My advice? If you can commit to being happy with that person and content in that relationship, then stop looking and focus on making this work, but if you begin entertaining the idea that there might be someone “better”, you’ll find yourself back in that crippling phenomenon of overchoice…